We are a few days away from what should be a one-sided victory by the Obama-Biden ticket over McCain-Palin. Here in Washington, the Obama margin should be larger than almost anywhere else in the country. It may be enough to save endangered Gov. Chris Gregoire and to help Darcy Burner unseat U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert in the Eastside congressional district race — or not.
Here is how I voted innotable races.
The Obama victory milestone will yield to overwhelming challenge
I voted for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama not so much because of what he has done but because of his intellect, cool dispassion, and great promise. It was an easy choice. I regard Arizona Sen. John McCain as temperamentally unsuited for the presidency. His campaign has shifted, day to day, from one topic to another and not pursued any coherent or consistent theme. I fear he would govern in the same fashion. As a senator, he has been notoriously impetuous, willful, and outrightly abusive toward colleagues and staff when thwarted in any way. In a crisis, I would expect Obama to be cautious and measured, McCain to react emotionally and reflexively. McCain, for all he makes of his foreign policy/national security experience, is not a man who grasps nuance or ambiguity. Obama has lived it.
The Obama-Biden victory celebration will not last long. Obama and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden will take office during the greatest financial/economic crisis since the Great Depression. Even if Democrats achieve big majorities in the U.S. Senate and House, they will lack resources to enact promises made during the campaign season. The Brookings Institution-Urban Institute Tax Policy Center, sponsored by two liberal-leaning and respected institutions, notes that Obama has promised at least $4.3 trillion in increased spending and tax cuts over the next 10 years. Most of the pledges were made before the recent financial collapse. His chances of keeping those promises: zero.
Obama could immediately come into collision with an impatient Democratic Congress unless he prepares both public and congressional opinion quickly for the new terms of reference that will apply in 2009. Change by necessity will be incremental and at the margins.
The state agenda will be limited, as well
The liberal/progressive Center for Budget and Policy Priorities surveyed 15 states last week and found that Washington had the greatest fall-off among them in total tax revenue during the quarter which ended in September. The prolonged Boeing strike, the Washington Mutual failure, and general economic weakness throughout the state will deepen that trend in the current quarter. Big new spending and tax-cut initiatives will be impossible. States, unlike the federal government, must balance their budgets annually. Washington's rainy-day fund will not be enough to cover a huge, looming state budget deficit in the next biennium, nor will reductions in staff by attrition.
I made my candidate choices with this in mind. This is a time for those who have some understanding of economics and finance. It also is a time for office holders with guts enough to say no to petitioning interest groups accustomed to getting their way in Olympia and at the local level.
Governor: I voted four years ago for Gov. Chris Gregoire and have been trying hard to find reasons for doing so again. She pledged in her 2004 campaign that, if elected, she would not raise taxes or spending and that she would review the tax code with an eye to removing the tax breaks for certain businesses and sectors, which cut a huge hole in the state revenue base. She also said she would take early action to replace or repair the earthquake-weakened Alaskan Way Viaduct on Seattle's waterfront and the Evergreen Point floating bridge across Lake Washington. Instead, she has raised both taxes and spending big-time and, rather than removing tax loopholes, has added new ones. The Viaduct and bridge projects have languished. Their replacements or repairs will not be completed during the upcoming gubernatorial term. Did she forget her earlier promises or merely conclude that they did not matter? I have been impressed by her Puget Sound clean-up initiative, although it, too, will take many years to get rolling.
Former state Sen. Dino Rossi, the Republican candidate, has run on a platform traditional to his party. Yet, more than Gregoire, he has in his campaign given evidence that he recognizes the tough economic period ahead and is prepared to make taxing and spending decisions accordingly.
There have been two "scandals" in the gubernatorial campaign. Rossi has been accused of coordinating with the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) to raise money which, if the allegation is true, should have been subject to spending limits. Gregoire has been taken to task for making a deal with Indian tribes which exempts them from paying taxes on gaming revenue — thus costing the state many millions annually. Other states with tribal gaming harvest such revenues. Of the two scandals, Gregoire's is the far more serious. I am hardly shocked that the BIAW would support a candidate sympathetic to its agenda; teacher and public-employee unions and trial lawyers give comparable support to Gregoire. I am shocked, however, that Gregoire made such a one-sided deal with the tribes which, then, promptly channeled big campaign money to her reelection campaign. Such a deal,in many states, would be receiving headline treatment 24/7.
The Obama tidal wave may help re-elect Gregoire. I, nonetheless, voted for Rossi. When I think of Gregoire's prospective stewardship of the state economy and budget in the difficult period ahead, I believe she would be constitutionally unable to say no to interest groups she has served avidly to date.
State auditor: Brian Sonntag, the incumbent, is a precious state resource. He is the right man in the right job, who can be counted on for let-the-chips-fall performance on behalf of ordinary Washington citizens. He has pursued a series of performance audits which continue to shake up less-than-efficient public and quasi-public agencies. The threat of such audits has helped keep bureaucrats honest. He should have this job as long as he wants it.
Attorney general: Rob McKenna, the incumbent, sometimes appears too cautious in his job. But he has pursued cases which have targeted people and groups respective of their politics. Challenger John Ladenburg's tenures as Pierce County executive, and until recently as Sound Transit chair, have been characterized by low politics and cronyism. McKenna.
Public lands commissioner: Change is needed here. Peter Goldmark, the challenger, is by education, experience, and temperament far better suited for the period ahead than incumbent Doug Sutherland. Goldmark is particularly sensitive to environmental issues. He is not, however, a one-issue zealot. He is a practical rancher from Eastern Washington.
Superintendent of public instruction: Terry Bergeson is a lifelong educator who has been trying mightily to bring teacher and student accountability and stronger performance to Washington public schools. She supports the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL), a test which measures student progress. Her opponent, Randy Dorn, executive director of Public School Employees of Washington, opposes the WASL. Bergeson has shown courage in confronting the teacher lobby on this issue and deserves re-election over Dorn, its standard bearer.
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